Commentary on Acts 10:34-43
If anything, belief in Jesus’ resurrection should get us to see things differently. Based on what he says in Acts 10:34-43, what does Peter, a chosen witness to Jesus’ resurrection (verses 40-41), see differently? What does his proclamation challenge us believers in Jesus’ resurrection to see differently?
The phrase that introduces Peter’s speech, translated literally as “Having opened his mouth, Peter said” (verse 34), designates it as a solemn proclamation (see also Exodus 4:12; Judges 11:35–36; Ezekiel 33:22; Daniel 10:16). The same expression appears in Matthew 5:2 and Acts 8:35. Peter begins by announcing his newfound understanding of God’s impartiality (verse 34). The Hebrew Scriptures ascribe this trait to God who, as a just judge, treats all equally and will not be swayed by bribes that the rich and powerful can afford (Deuteronomy 10:17; 2 Chronicles 19:7; see also Sirach 35:14).
Under Paul’s influence especially (see Romans 2:6-16; Galatians 2:6-9), believers in Jesus adopted the notion that “God shows no partiality” to communicate God’s equal treatment of Gentiles. They could be fully accepted into the originally Jewish Jesus movement, without their having to take on such Jewish identity-markers as circumcision and kosher dietary restrictions. Speaking before the Gentile Roman centurion Cornelius and his household, and spurred by a vision and the divine providence that he surmises lies behind Cornelius’s invitation (Acts 10:1–33), Peter agrees with this perspective (verses 34-35).
The word in verse 35 that the NRSV translates as “nation” (ethnos) signifies any nation beyond the people descended from Israel (verse 36; literally, “the sons of Israel”). Peter applies to personal language that usually refers to the acceptability of sacrifices offered to God (Leviticus 1:3-4; 19:5; 22:17-20; Isaiah 56:7; 60:7; Jeremiah 6:20; Malachi 2:13). While texts like Isaiah 56:6-7 envision the inclusion of foreigners among God’s people through keeping such covenant demands as sabbath observance and offering sacrifice in the temple, for Peter anyone may be “acceptable” (dektos, verse 35) to God without participating in cultic traditions particular to Israel. All it takes is proper reverence (“fear”) of God (see also Acts 10:2, 22; 13:16, 26) and literally “doing righteousness” or “doing justice” (ergazomenos dikaiosynēn, verse 35; see also Psalm 15:1-5; Proverbs 12:22; 15:8; Romans 2:10–11).
The author of Acts also wrote the Gospel of Luke and followed the conventions of his day to compose the speeches orated by the apostles in Acts. Naturally, then, Peter’s telling of the Jesus story in 10:36-43 contains characteristic Lukan emphases, such as:
- Jesus’ bringing of peace (verse 36; see also Luke 1:79; 2:14; 7:50; 10:5-6; 19:38, 42; 24:36),
- God’s anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power (verse 38; see also Luke 3:22; 4:1, 18, 36; 5:17; 6:19; 8:46),
- the centrality of Jerusalem (verse 39; see also Luke 9:51-53; 24:49, 52), and
- that Jesus brings forgiveness of sins (verse 43, see also Luke 3:3; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 13:38; 26:18).
As he rehearses the Jesus story, Peter makes two related statements that reinforce the inclusivity of the gospel. First, Peter proclaims Jesus as “Lord of all” (verse 36; see also Acts 2:36), which is to say, of every person and nation, Jew or Gentile (see also Romans 10:12). This politically-charged claim places Jesus above the emperor, in direct opposition to the widespread use of the title “lord” (kyrios) for the emperor of Rome.1
Second, Peter identifies Jesus as “judge of the living and the dead” (verse 42). This statement reaffirms the totality of Jesus’ lordship (see also Acts 17:31; Romans 14:9; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5). Though the logic of Deuteronomy 21:23 would judge Jesus as cursed for being hung on a tree (verse 39; see also Galatians 3:13), Peter sees Jesus as the judge of all. For Peter, so all-encompassing is Jesus’ exalted status that even the Jewish Scriptures testify to Jesus (verse 43; see also Luke 24:25-27, 44-47).
Some of Peter’s words and actions in the Gospels have garnered him a reputation for being stubborn and closed-minded (for example, Mark 8:31-33; John 13:6-10). Yet his portrayal in Acts shows otherwise. Jesus’ resurrection and subsequent events lead Peter to reconsider the place of Gentiles before God, to exalt even over the emperor a man executed on a Roman cross, and to reinterpret his Scriptures in light of resurrection faith. In short, Jesus’ resurrection causes Peter to think differently about his preconceptions and received traditions, including some that must have been deeply ingrained.
At Easter, Christians celebrate Jesus’ all-encompassing lordship and the new life and salvation offered to all through the resurrection. Preachers might prod the congregation to consider whether their affirmation of the same faith claim encapsulated in Acts 10:34-43 leads them to think differently. Does it make a real impact—as it did for Peter—on how we relate to others, including those who belong to different ethnic, socio-economic, political, or even religious groups? If so, do we relate to them in ways that are as life-affirming for them as we claim Jesus’ resurrection is life-affirming for us and for the world at large? Does our faith affect how we relate to power structures in our society? Peter does not hesitate to tell a Roman centurion, by definition a military leader serving Rome, that Jesus and not the emperor is Lord of all. Does our belief in the resurrection likewise lead us to speak truth to power? Or do we assent to belief in Jesus’ resurrection without it making a discernible impact on how we conduct ourselves and relate to others? Does the creed we affirm form us in any meaningful way? Do we think and act differently because of it?
- Carl R. Holladay, Acts: A Commentary, New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2016), 238.